Lukas stirred but chose to ignore the bothersome nudge on his chest. Just as he was about to slip back into unconsciousness, the nudge made a comeback.
He fought his stupor to get rid of the nuisance. He was quick to realize that this nuisance was a four-month-old Artemis. He had fallen asleep with her in his arms.
The infant’s dark gaze was an unrefined version of her mother’s— void of the wary lookout that would develop as she matured. Her trusting eyes held no intent other than to understand the colorful world she had been brought out to. He smiled at his pup, proudest as one could be.
Artemis couldn’t make out the unfocused and greyscale blob that made up her father’s face, only the primal clenching in her stomach that signaled hunger. She leaned in and repeated the action that woke him up. Her small mouth opened, defeated the inch of space between her and her target, and clamped down on Lukas’ T-shirt. When he realized what she was doing, Lukas let out a shriek that had him questioning his masculinity.
Zena peeped into the bedroom, interested in the strange sound. She found Lukas with his arms crossed over his chest and his face red. “What’s with you?” she asked.
He launched himself off the bed, leaving the baby safely behind. “Something tells me Artemis is hungry...” he grumbled, face still red and arms protectively crossed over his flat chest and harassed nipples.
He departed with his daydream when Zena’s call reached him. Like a bucket of ice, the reality of the situation made an unwelcomed return. His smile thinned out when he realized that he no longer had a curious little baby that thought he could breastfeed to call his. Artemis was gone.
“Are you busy?” Zena asked, noticing his dejection.
“I’m going out there. I need to look for her.” He jumped to his feet and collected a series of documents that blanketed the bed.
“The a search group is still combing the crash site. Are you sure you want to go?” Zena asked with concern. The two of them were equally torn about their daughter’s disappearance. Today, Lukas cracked under the pressure.
“I can’t stay here buried in paperwork, Zena. It’s agitating. I feel like I’m sitting on my hands!” he inhaled. “I’m going to bring her home. I have to.” Thoughts of Artemis had an eruption of desperation speed up his movements. With fidgety hands, he stacked papers together.
When Zena’s arms brought them together, Lukas hugged her back and took all the comfort she could offer.
His lips pressed into her hair. The hair his baby girl had also inherited from her. “I’m going to find her.”
Sol’s maniac guffaws drowned out Artemis’ screams. “Stop!” she demanded as she tore through the woods but Wrath focused on his chase, bloodthirsty for the tattle-tailing bastard that blew his entire cover. He was going to return the favor by blowing up his ribs. He was giving the chase all he had, and Sol was providing a lot of inspiration by leaving a trail of laughter.
Knowing that Wrath was snapping at his ankles, Sol made a wide turn and snatched an approaching Artemis. He threw her behind him, using her as a much-needed distraction. Artemis was more than happy to latch onto Wrath shoulders and use her momentum to tackle him to the ground.
Wrath defeatedly grunted when the back of his head slammed on the ground. Artemis made sure to keep him there by settling her weight down on his lower stomach.
“Don’t even think about it,” she snarled when his hands moved to her hips to no doubt push her off. His brown eyes glared into hers, not fond of the command. But he became distracted when he noticed Sol in his periphery. He sat on a branch above them, quite amused.
“SOL!” his chest thundered like a volcanic eruption and the shake reverberated throughout Artemis’ own body.
A chuckle coming from above made her look up. “You’re focusing on me while having that hot piece of ass draped over you? I knew I was cute, Raiden, but this is just flattering.” Sol dangled his feet leisurely and enjoyed the view.
Oh, Wrath was very aware of the heat pressing against lower stomach. His jeans were currently being impaled by a growth that Artemis was thankfully ignorant of. “I’m going to hang you from your intestines,” he blustered. The bravado was paired with a glare.
“Hey!” Artemis dug her fingers into his bare shoulders with the hope of grabbing his attention. It worked. His darkened eyes jumped to hers and in one swift moment, he pushed her off him and rose to his feet. “Don’t touch me like that again if you know what’s good for you,” he warned.
Artemis nearly laughed. “I really don’t think you’re in a position to be making demands right now, Raiden,” she taunted.
“Don’t you fucking call me that again!” Wrath boomed and stepped closer, hoping to use his height as an intimidation feature. Artemis, being an alpha, was not easily frightened by the hovering fury.
“Now, you listen to me. The only person who ought to be angry right now is me after all the crap you’ve pulled!” she screamed with indignation.
Sol whistled at the spiciness of the show. It was great! He lamented not having brought popcorn.
“Oooo are you gonna take that, Raiden?” he instigated.
Wrath swiped a rock from the floor and threw it up, missing Sol’s head by centimeters. When he reached down for another rock, Artemis palmed his forearm.
“I have absolutely no idea who I am or why you’ve been treating me no better than a maggot. But now would be a good time to fill me in.” Her voice was surly and her grip stifling.
“Not much to fill you in on,” he pulled his arm from hers to disrupt the sparks awakening something in him that was better off dead. “I like my solitude and wanted you gone.”
“Why didn’t you just say that?” She interjected, leveraging on her anger hoping that it covered the pain that threatened to make itself known in the form of a choked sob. “Why pretend you didn’t speak English and have me chase you like a lost puppy? You could’ve just laid out the fact that you didn’t want a mate, taken me to your alpha as requested, and been through with me! I get that there’s probably not much to do in the middle of nowhere but I’m not a fucking source of entertainment!” she seethed.
“You tell him!” Sol encourages from above, becoming Artemis’ personal cheerleader.
The urge to take down the tree and beat the rambunctious man with it increased but Wrath paid it no mind. “I figured ignoring you would’ve gotten the first message through,” he took a step back. “As for my alpha, I don’t have one so good luck with your search,” he finished.
Artemis threw her hands up to express her frustration. “Don’t have one? How is that possible? You don’t smell like a rogue or an alpha,” she argued, desperate to wrap her head around the confusion.
“I trust that Sol will fill you in on that considering the fact that he filled you in on everything else just fine.” Wrath glared accusingly at the man in the tree.
Sol grinned, taking that as his queue. “Sure thing, partner!” He then lept off the branch and landed ceremoniously a few feet from them. He stayed there, knowing that approaching Wrath would result in a broken nose.
“My name is Sol, Spanish for ‘sun.’ I was born somewhere in the Caribbean four hundred years ago. Younger me did some things that angered the goddess so mommy put me on a timeout. Since werewolves aren’t exactly fans of lycans, we’re not welcomed in any pack. And so to answer your question, that’s why we don’t have alphas!” he cheerfully enlightens her.
“Wh-what?” Artemis spluttered, eyes wide with disbelief and knees tethering.
“I know right! It’s complete bullshit. We’re not all bad. Raiden is a surly jackass but he his minds his own business. And me? Well, I’m an outstanding, law-abiding citizen!” Sol agrees.
The charming man’s heartfelt assurance did little to stop Artemis from hopping on the mortification bandwagon. Sure, he was a good salesman. But he wouldn’t be able to sell his honor to her while she had the prior knowledge of his background.
When she took a defensive step back, Wrath stared knowingly. The reveal of his identity triggered the reaction he was expecting. He had seen the distrust and fear that claimed her eyes and gaped her mouth before. He knew that he would once again cross paths with the confirmations that he was an abomination but he had been hoping that it would hurt a little less since he last saw it. He was wrong. Seeing his mate wordlessly relay the message that he had already accepted hurt.
Oh yes, it hurt. The darkest hurt on the spectrum. The one that had you wistfully considering digging your fingers into your chest and pry your heart out to stop the damn thing from aching. All while simultaneously hurting yourself because you knew you deserved the pain.
“You should’ve walked away the day you ran into me.” His aloof facade was nothing but a deception tool to cover the raw agony writhing in the depths of his deflated heart.
Sol stared at the couple solemnly, all traces of comedy gone. He was expectant too; waiting for Artemis to turn, run, and break Raiden for good. Since he had money at his disposal, Sol rarely wanted anything. But this was one of those rare moments.
He wanted Artemis to stay and accept Wrath.